Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Mystery of the Jaguar in Southern Arizona

On a somewhat recent post about Extinction, I was fascinated by the plight of the Zanzibar Leopard.  Cats are naturally reclusive animals and will go undetected by most people.  Was this cat really extinct?  I typed in "Zanzibar Leopard" and discovered a blog by a couple of researchers studying this issue on the island of Unguja. If you are fascinated by this topic, I enourage you to click on this link for more information.

It got me thinking about our own issues here in the Sonoran Desert.  Today, it isn't uncommon to see a Bobcat or the elusive Mountain Lion.  Although if you see a Mountain Lion, it should be from a distance:)  These are incredible cats to have around in our desert ecosystem.  But were you aware, that Southern Tucson had Jaguars at one time? And it might surprise you that it wasn't so long ago that this animal made the news.  In 2009, a Jaguar was caught by the name of Macho B.  He was rumored to roam around the area of the Buenos Aires Bird Refuge near Three Points, Arizona.  In 2004/2005, I remember visiting Brown Canyon Ranch in this fantastic refuge and hearing about a study being done on Jaguars.  I sat eating my breakfast thinking about this majestic creature....and here!!!  In our Sonoran Desert?  No.  It couldn't be true.
Sorry about the bad camera shot....I had to be quick...PLUS, I didn't have a good camera back then! Never again.
On a trip into the Amazon several years ago, we were floating down the Tambopata River in Peru.  We noticed two unusual predatory birds sitting on the branches. This piqued our curiosity as we turned the river's bend.  Why were they randomly sitting on branches?  They were also observing something of interest.  We silently floated around the corner in our canoe near reeds and the dead fallen tree.  Our mouths dropped open.  Locals, along with me and my buddy, just stared at the magnificent Jaguar eating its kill on the shore.  It is EXTREMELY rare to see a Jaguar in the wild because they are secretive animals.  I had my crappy camera then and snapped several of the shots you see here on this blog.  Locals, after the event, said that we were very lucky to see this predator as even THEY don't see the Jaguar often.  In his lifetime, our guide Robin, said that he had seen this animal only 3 times!  That's how elusive this animal is!  The Jaguar, upon seeing us, returned back into the forest.  He had been licking his paws after eating his kill.   To this day, I will never forget that moment in my life. I love all things "cat" which brings me back to my story of Macho B.
Moments after seeing this cat, it left the scene quickly
Indeed, there was evidence that a Jaguar had made it back to the Sonoran desert after years of being wiped out by area ranchers and poachers.  The Buenos Aires Refuge, however, has been making huge strides after years of research and protection to restore native grassland area for wildlife and plants.  The work has taken decades to correct damage done by ranchers, their cattle, and hundreds of miles of wire fencing.  It is home to the Pronghorn, Masked Bobwhite Quail, and the endemic Pima Pineapple Cactus that is listed as endangered.  This is probably our states greatest success story.  But it doesn't only stop there, Mexico, which shares the border, has also been cooperating by protecting lands on its side. If you drive through this area, there are times you will feel as if you were in the savannas of Africa.  This large and protected area has encouraged animals, like the previously thought extinct Jaguar of Southern Arizona, to return.  Today, the studies continue.  While this was and is encouraging news today, the plight of Macho B was an unfortunate one.  A photo captured this cat in the wild.  Eventually humans found the animal and put a collar around his neck which, along with old age, killed him.  Here is a report sent by the Zanzibar Leopard researchers that I was completely unaware of....
This pic taken by Martha Retallick. Macho B has been recognized every year during Tucson's All Souls Processional in November.
This planet is an incredible place.  Education has always been the key to understanding.  It took early generations of settlers to eradicate buffalo herds as they shot them from their train windows, ranchers to destroy Jaguar habitat, the ignorance of government and local villagers to eradicate "vermin" like the endemic Zanzibar leopard to possible extinction....and well...the list goes on and on by our human ignorance.   Today it's human development encroaching upon virgen tracts of land both here and abroad. For every action we make, there is a consequence that changes the balance of our planet.  I get encouraged hearing the news that a Jaguar made his way back to Southern Arizona, but I am saddened by the actions taken to tag this magnificent creature which lead him to his death. May we learn from these stories and try to restore what was lost and what could be lost. Because when it's's gone forever.


  1. I'm told jaguars were once found in the Grand Canyon, recently in the Peloncillo Mtns in NM a number of times, and one was killed in Santa Fe NM pre-1930.

    But apparently tracks and some photos of "el tigre" have been documented crossing under I-10 at Emperita Wash, between Vail and Benson.

    Last time thru that stretch - 2 yrs ago? - I imagined what it might be like seeing that, some late night!

  2. Hello! What a beautiful blog!

  3. You are so right! And what an incredible experience you had! I don't care if the photo is blurry it makes the story more real for me. I would have been shaking in my boots! LOL


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